Do conference interpreters make more than medical interpreters?

I find it interesting to follow the interpreting field in general, not just the ASL-English interpreting field, and the other day I saw a surprising post on a blog I follow called The Professional Interpreter: Many medical interpreters are missing out on a prestigious and profitable field. The author, Tony Rosado, a Spanish-English interpreter, says that most medical interpreters do not venture from interpreting medical jobs to interpret medical conferences. I don’t think of conference interpreting as more prestigious and profitable than interpreting in medical settings, but things may be very different between signed-spoken and spoken-spoken language interpreters.

Qualified interpreter means an interpreter who … is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary.

According to the article, until recently there were no standards for medical interpreting. It is important to note, though, that the author is not talking about interpreting between deaf and non-deaf people; he is talking about interpreting for people who do not share the same spoken language. Interpreters for deaf people are provided as an accommodation mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act and previous laws such as PL 94-142 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Such mandates create a demand for quality; in fact, Title III of the ADA sets the legal definition:

Qualified interpreter means an interpreter who, via a video remote interpreting (VRI) service or an on-site appearance, is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary. Qualified interpreters include, for example, sign language interpreters, oral transliterators, and cued-language transliterators.

I am interested in hearing from interpreters of all language pairs to see what you think about conference interpreting as opposed to medical interpreting. In your experience, have you found conference interpreting to be more profitable than medical interpreting? Do you find that your colleagues and/or consumers respect you more for doing conference interpreting than medical interpreting? Personally, I find both equally rewarding, both personally and financially. It can be stimulating and glamorous to interpret for someone charismatic while facing a large audience, yet it is challenging and rewarding to interpret for a doctor and patient in a private room. I like both settings, and feel respected in both settings. What do you like?

Translations for CHA-HEAD other than ARROGANT

There is a sign in ASL some call CHA-HEAD because “cha” is the mouth morpheme used in ASL for something big, and the sign for BIG is made around the head level to indicate a “big head” (figuratively speaking). The formal gloss for this sign is ARROGANT (glosses are conventionally written in ALL CAPS). Since ASL has no written form, when people want to write about ASL, or talk about it in English, they assign glosses to signs. The benefit of these glosses is they give us a way to transcribe ASL for the purposes of notation and translation. The drawback of these glosses is they tend to limit our translation of these signs that one gloss, rather than to what the signs actually mean in context.

as any good interpreter or translator knows, words and signs in one languages do not always have single word/sign equivalents in another

One example of a gloss that I believe limits our vocabulary is the gloss ARROGANT for the sign, well, let’s call it CHA-HEAD for lack of a better word other. The thing we might forget is that CHA-HEAD often doesn’t mean anything as extreme as arrogant. A few cases in point: I was interpreting a video relay call some years ago (and of the thousands of call I interpreted in seven years, this is one that stands out), and a Deaf brother signed to his hearing brother something to the effect of YOU CHA-HEAD TELL DAD. I (unfortunately) voiced, “it was arrogant of you to tell him.” The hearing brother said, “I’m not arrogant!” I realized at that moment is was my interpretation, not what his brother said, that he was responding to. I asked the Deaf caller to hold just a moment, and I explained to the hearing caller, “this is the interpreter— sorry about that interpretation. A better interpretation would have been, “you shouldn’ta done that.” I chose that interpretation on second thought because that’s what the Deaf person’s utterance “felt” like when I saw it; in other words, that was the sense of what the Deaf person signed. I had made the mistake of interpreting the form of the word I had been taught for that sign, and the translation was woefully off. When I really thought about it for a moment (and how many “moments” do we really have when we are interpreting a phone call?), I realized not only did the sign not mean arrogant; it really didn’t even translate to a particular word, but more to an expression.

Another case in point, which brought this up for me recently: I was debriefing with a fellow interpreter, and I felt I needed to call them out on something they did on the job that I felt was less than appropriate (as I’ve said, I believe interpreting teams need to be blunt with each other for the sake of consumers. We were conversing in both our languages (as bilingual people often do), and I said, “I thought that was a little [switching to ASL without mouthing] CHA-HEAD.” My colleague said, “it wasn’t arrogant!” Now, you have to understand, this colleague is an intelligent, well-educated, and seasoned interpreter, so if they thought of the word arrogant when confronted with that sign, it tells me the connotation is well entrenched among ASL-English interpreters. What I said to them was, “well, I didn’t mean arrogant; I just meant kind of liberal [in the demand-control schema sense of favoring action as opposed to inaction].” I just felt that they had done something that overstepped an interpreter’s bounds a bit. Of course, that is arguable, and the point is not which one of us was “right” or “wrong”— the point is that my colleague took exception to my ASL sign because of the denotation assigned to it by the English gloss.

A Thesaurus of Translations for CHA-HEAD other than ARROGANT

Since the sign in question means so many things milder than arrogant, here is a list of translations with a range of meanings to match a range of situations. Note these are not all single words, because as any good interpreter or translator knows, words and signs in one languages do not always have single word/sign equivalents in another. These translations are context-dependent, and are not by any means suggested to be one-size-fits-all. Pick and choose what suits the situation. Here’s my list as of now:

  • presumptuous
  • to take it upon oneself to…
  • to go right ahead and…
  • to just…
  • familiar
  • forward
  • to overstep
  • overstepping one’s bounds
  • beyond one’s place
  • crossing the line
  • a bit much, don’t you think?
  • the nerve!
  • to have the nerve to…
  • ballsy
  • cheeky
  • brazen
  • bold
  • conceited
  • big-headed
  • full of oneself
  • taking liberties
  • inappropriate
  • to think [one] can just…

I’m sure the list could go on, but that’s all I can think of at the moment. Do you have any other translations? Please leave a comment. Thanks!

I’m watching the Community Forum – Conversations Today Shaping Our Tomorrow

I’m not at RID 2013 in person, but I’m watching the Community Forum – Conversations Today Shaping Our Tomorrow live streaming at I’m live tweeting with others who are there and watching it streaming as well.

That was fun, participating online!

Computerized interpretation of vague language for Web searches

It’s great to see how people other than “interpreters” are implementing the “interpretation” of vague language for practical applications! Panos Alexopoulos, in his presentation Vagueness in Semantic Information Management, discusses how Internet engineers can design databases with search capabilities that can “interpret” what consumers mean when they say they are looking for, say, a “Big, modern restaurant.” (How many square feet is big? What year range or architectural and interior design qualifies as modern?) He discusses the challenge of developing algorithms that can translate vague search terms into specific results. Very interesting!